The Upside of Developer Events

The real benefit is connecting to the broader community of ideas

A decade ago, I was attending an event every night of the week. Sometimes if I was super ambitious, I would attend two or more events in an evening. It was 2010 in New York City, as the nascent NYC tech startup scene was growing.

Winding down my own startup, I realized my huge Achilles heel. In my futile attempts at fund raising and hiring, I had no network and no credibility. I was too busy being a founder to network or learn from others or to share ideas.

I should have made time to come up for air and go to some events. Many of the mistakes I made could have been avoided had I spoken with others and listened to their own plights.

Over the course of 2010, by attending lots of events, I changed the entire trajectory of my career. I became an investor and advisor to many B2B tech startups in NYC. It’s not a stretch to say that all my work the past decade, including my joining Stack Overflow, was a direct consequence of the network started building at the start of the decade.

I am fond of saying that events are force multipliers for one’s career. You are exposed to new ideas and build valuable connections with peers. Not all events are worthwhile and I share a few pointers here on finding high quality events. When you choose good events however, it is no exaggeration to say it can be life-changing.

One of the most encouraging signs I can hear from an IT leader is that they actively encourage their developers to attend events. Some enlightened leaders will even cover the cost for event attendance or ensure developers are not docked for time off to attend events. The rare few will even foot the bill to host outside events in their own companies.

Then there are some companies in the dark ages of developer culture. Developers have to take time off to attend events. There is no time for playing with new technologies. No resources are provided to upskill one’s technical abilities. Developers work on outdated equipment and clunky tools. They spend more time in meetings than coding and when they want a snack, they have to hunt around for change for the pantry vending machines.

The best organizations are the one’s that do not treat developers as commoditized worker drones. They are less Dilbert and annoying management whims and more Silicon Valley. Developers are given the latitude and respect to do their best work. They encourage their teams to connect with and contribute to the broader developer community.

Last week I had the pleasure to attend a Stack X event in Singapore. This was an event by YOW! that was hosted by GovTech Singapore. GovTech has been rapidly building their own tech stack they have dubbed Stack X to deliver digital experiences faster to agencies and citizens.

As an attendee, it was impressive to see how well organized the event was as well as to see the attendance of so many of GovTech’s own developers. Some of the GovTech leadership also presented including an intro by Chief Digital Tech Officer Cheow Hoe Chan and talks by Jean Looi and Eyung Lim on designing the Moments of Life app.

Events and community go hand in hand. Stack X is one such community that is building momentum. Great events are the outcropping of a strong community. As we have seen from the open source world, community is the foundation of creating some of the most important software projects as Dave Thomas, the founder of YOW, shares:

‘Software like many things “takes a community” to build and sustain.’

When engineering leaders complain to me that the code their teams are writing is lousy and buggy, my retort is “where is the developer community”. Outside of a sparsely used workplace social networking tool and a handful of internal tech events, there are rarely opportunities to collaborate inside or outside the organization.

In a time when IT budgets are being slashed and money for developer events gets cut back, I wonder if the question of code quality ever crosses the mind of business heads. When code productivity is just the number of lines written or code commits, is it any surprise that the output from developer team is not the best quality work?

Organizations that are investing in greater internal and external collaboration are building for the future. That future is one where the best ideas and code is not being developed inside the organization, but by the community. This is why most of the core software in enterprises today is open source rather than proprietary code.

The upside of events is not only for developers and their morale. It is the gateway into a community where the best ideas create better quality and more innovative solutions for inside the organization. It’s about happier developers writing the best code leading to the best business outcomes.

If you feel inspired for your organization to become more involved in outside events, there are a few options. The easiest is to sponsor existing events and communities whether local meetup communities or larger conferences. You can also host events for external communities onsite. This is what Credit Suisse has done with YOW! Conference in Hong Kong & Singapore and Viacom did with DevOpsDays NYC earlier this year.

The most ambitious option is to manage and host your own events. While it requires more planning and effort, the benefit is you get to build an external community and it gives your developers opportunities to get involved. It is also a natural way to showcase some of the interesting engineering work and software projects your organization is working on.

If running your own events sound hard, it doesn’t have to be. I have organized over 300 events and have learned most of the ins and outs of running events. I condensed most of my knowledge into a post called “Roll Your Own Events”.

What are some events you or your team have attended that you enjoyed? Does your organization support the attending or hosting of developer events?

What is the purpose of this “red room” in Stranger Things?

This question got mentioned in The Guardian 🤣🤣🤣

We help IT leaders in enterprises solve the cultural challenges involved in digital transformation and move towards a community based culture that delivers innovation and customer value faster. Learn more about our work here.

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